John Latham

One-Second Drawing (17” 2002) (Time Signature 5:1)


John Latham 1921–2006
Acrylic and enamel on wood
Object: 271 x 369 x 26 mm
Presented by the artist 1976

Not on display

Display caption

In the early 1970s, Latham devised a series of ‘One Second Drawings’, of which this is an example. In them, he returned to the issue of representing his idea of a ‘least event’. Latham produced a set of instructions which specified that 60 ‘drawings’ were to be created, one per day, by spraying a piece of white blockboard for one second with black acrylic paint. The numerical sequence in the title of this example (17” 2002) records the time of its execution (the 17th second of the 20th minute of the second hour), followed by the date (14 December 1972).

Gallery label, September 2016

Catalogue entry

T02070 ONE SECOND DRAWING 17" 2002 (TIME SIGNATURE 5:1) 1972

Stamped on the back in carbon with artist's NOIT stamp. The title ONE SECOND DRAWING is also stamped in carbon. In the box-space labelled TIME/DATE the artist has inscribed in green ink as follows: ‘17" 2002, 14 Dec. 72.’ In the box-space labelled OPERATOR the artist has inscribed in pencil the figures ‘5:1’ and his initials ‘JL’. Black acrylic paint sprayed on to white enamelled wood panel, 10 1/2 × 14 1/2 × 1 (26.7 × 36.8 × 2.5)
Presented by the artist 1976
Exh: John Latham, Tate Gallery, June–July 1976 (7)
Lit: Least Event, one second drawings, blind work, 24 second painting, Lisson Gallery Publications, 1970; Rosetta Brooks and John Stezaker, John Latham: State of Mind, Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, 1975, pp.43–50; Terry Measham, introduction to Tate Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1976, pp.14–15

The ‘One Second’ drawings, of which T02070 is one of innumerable examples made and stamped or ‘minited’ since 1970, illustrate the most vital principle in Latham's cosmology. They illustrate his concept of ‘least event’ or the occurrence of ‘not nothing’ or ‘nothing’. The black dots of sprayed paint stand for ‘not nothing’ and the white ground on which they fall stands for ‘nothing’. The fall of the black dot on to white ground thus symbolises a primal event, one which takes place with only minimal contrivance on the part of the artist. All the ‘One Second’ drawings are the result of his release of the paint spray for a period of one second, the distance between spray and surface being fixed in advance. The ‘Time Signature’ on the back of T02070 is an example of a device formulated by the artist in 1970 and explained in a Lisson Gallery publication (loc cit.). His system is a code of intentionality which recognises that a work may well function differently for its maker than for those to whom it is addressed. In the present case, Minit 5 in 5:1 indicates that the work refers to an event or system outside itself but the 1 refers to the making of the work and draws attention to its almost autogenerative process. The neutral, uncontriving role of the artist, in this case, is indicated by the term ‘operator’, after which we see his initials J.L.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979